If your household is like mine, you’ve seen a lot of illness these past few months. Between the coughing, runny noses, and sore throats, it can be hard to catch your breath! The endless weeks of feeling physically crummy paired with the logistical marathon of canceling plans, catching up on missed work, or figuring out childcare can leave you feeling completely run down. First of all, you’re not alone; it’s really normal to feel exhausted and depleted after a period of sickness. Second of all, there are evidence based ways to protect your mental health even while your physical health is suffering. Here’s how.
Research shows that using resilience & optimism is essential to protecting mental health during crises. Psychologist and researcher Dr. Martin Seligman created an easy-to-remember device for practicing optimism during these times of trial called the 3 P’s: Personalization, Permanence, and Pervasiveness. Here’s how it looks in times of sickness:
1. Personalization: The problem isn’t YOU. Getting sick is a common phenomenon that occurs because of a thousand different factors. Reminding yourself that you aren’t to blame for getting sick can help you be less hard on yourself when it feels like your life is falling to pieces because of your illness. Treat yourself with the same tenderness you would a dear friend who is sick; I bet you’d tell them that it wasn’t their fault & they should take the time and space they need to feel healed. You deserve this kind of response, too.
2. Permanence: This will NOT last forever. Our brains have a difficult time with perspective. While we know intellectually that no difficult time period will last forever, our brains and our bodies act as if it will. This is why it can be helpful to frequently remind yourself that in a few days, or a week, or a couple of weeks, you will be feeling 100% better. Sometime very soon, you will have the time & space to catch up on what you’ve missed, your kids will go back to school, and you will be able to breathe out of your nose again 🙂
3. Pervasiveness: This doesn’t impact EVERY aspect of your life. Again, our brains have trouble with perspective. When we are having a difficult day or two, it’s hard to NOT feel like our troubles touch every aspect of our lives. Remind yourself that, while much of your life feels affected by sickness, there are many, many aspects that remain intact. You are sick, but your pet still loves you. You are sick, but your car still runs. You are sick, but your book is still really good. This isn’t meant to “silver line” your crappy experience, but it will remind you that your sickness is not indeed ruining every aspect of your life (even if your brain tells you otherwise).
You deserve to give yourself a break this sick season. Lean into a sense of self-compassion and ease with these 3 P’s, and remember that this is not your fault, it will not last forever, and many parts of your life remain unaffected. Heal well, and know that Spring is coming.
Maria Miller is a therapist at The Center for Mindfulness & CBT. She specializes in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, depression, anxiety, emotional intelligence, and trauma. With her background as a yoga teacher and emotional intelligence assessor, she enjoys blending mindfulness & a heart-centered approach with evidence-based techniques to help clients live from their own truth.